Where Does a Church Get its Authority?

This might be presented as the argument of authority.

There are two recognized types of authority: One IMMEDIATE and the other MEDIATE. They could be characterized in the following way:

 Immediate Authority is unquestioned and undisputed authority that rests upon their inherent right which is a product of who the person is. They do not require any authority from another. Their authority is not different from their person: it is who they are in and of themselves. Immediate authority cannot be gained and is natural to who they are. This type of authority is absolute and apparent.

Mediate Authority: Authority that is given to someone by another with immediate authority. It is entirely dependent upon a person who possesses immediate authority and cannot be self-imposed upon themselves. This type of authority, which allows them to act with authority in a particular capacity, is practiced in the name of the immediate authority who bestowed this right upon them. Mediate authority can be specific and bounded to certain areas of concern or it can be all-encompassing and unbounded requisite to the wishes of the Immediate Authority. Mediate Authority can be passed on to others when a vacancy arises due to death or sickness. For instance a King sends his ambassador and his entourage to another country to negotiate with that country on a matter of state. If the appointed ambassador becomes incapacitated or dies on the trip, he can appoint another from his entourage to carry out the mission in his absence.

In Christianity, it would seem prudent to examine by what form of authority the church or pastor teaches. If one goes outside of the immediate or mediate authority then how can they posses a valid authority. Would they not merely possess that which men might choose in allowing them this authority or revoking it on a whim? But how can those without authority bestow that which they don’t possess: it is an invalid use of authority.

Did Martin Luther or John Calvin have Immediate Authority: in other words, are they Divine? The answer is obviously no. Did they receive Mediate Authority from Christ as did Peter and the Apostles? Again, the answer is obviously no and they made no such claim. Had they made this claim, as many individuals have over the centuries, would we be required to believe them without proof? The self-evident answer would seem to be no.

Luther, Calvin and Zwingli had no authority to defy the rightful authorities of the Church who received their authority directly from Christ. They abandoned the Church over disagreements and scandals in the Church without making use of the remedies that have been used by others the last 2000 years to correct and reform those who might scandalize the Church: for these disagreements and scandals started almost immediately. It is important to see how the Church reacted to the apostle James and the Judaizers and James’s response[1]. This was a big disagreement in the Church and threatened a rift in our Christian faith. James did not leave the Church on account of his disagreement. Instead, he left it to the Council of Jerusalem where Peter with much urging from Paul decided that the Judaizers could not burden new converts with circumcision or dietary laws. James accepted their authority. Contrast that with Luther and the others who left the Church and did not even attempt to settle their disagreements within the Church. They simply walked and started their own church without recognizing any authority but their own: authority they never possessed: for self-imposed authority is no authority at all.

Christ foresaw such problems when he warned the apostles that scandals would necessarily come[2]. But He also prayed for unity[3] among His followers. In fact they deny that the Bible, which they all claim for their authority, specifically relates the power that Christ (the Immediate Authority) gave to Peter[4] to lead His Church and to the Apostles[5] (acting together in union with Peter) to rule in His absence.

Without a known valid authority, who can decide what to believe? If it is simply the Bible that is the authority, then whose interpretation should be believed? Should each individual decide by their own understanding what difficult Scripture passages might mean? If so, how does this compare to anarchy where anyone can claim his own authority? The confusion is never ending with as many sets-of-beliefs as there are people on the planet. Each of us would, if we had a desire to do it, found our own personal church that conforms to our unique interpretations, personal likes, dislikes or preferences.

Licit authority seems to be at the very heart of the present disunity of Christianity. It can readily be seen in the fruit of the first separated churches (Lutheran, Calvinist and Baptist) who have divided over the years into nearly 30,000 churches, each with their own particular nuances in their theology. Though they mostly hold to the same major convictions of the Christian faith, the details have divided the One Church established by Christ into many disparate factions, scandalous to the desire of our Lord to remain as one.


[1] Read Acts 15

[2] For it must needs be that scandals come: __ Mt. 18:7.  The following verses state that the offenders should be rooted out: not that the body of the Church be abandoned.

[3] Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. __ Jn. 17:11

[4] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.__ Mt. 16:18

[5] When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. __ Jn. 20:22-23

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s